Former Apache Junction Parks Director Bell dies

Jeff Bell

Former Apache Junction Parks and Recreation Director Jeff Bell – the city’s only parks director until his retirement in 2016 – has died after an illness. He was 61. Services are pending.

Mr. Bell steered the city’s parks department for 35 years and oversaw the development of more than 2,000 acres of park and open space in an operation that now employs more than 100 full- and part-time staff, according to a release.

“Jeff built the department from scratch when we were just a small, emerging city,” Mayor Jeff Serdy said in the release.

“With his leadership, we ended up with beautiful parks, the amazing multi-generational center, just great facilities. He also helped mentor the next generation of Parks professionals and raise the standard for our city with award-winning programs.”

Mr. Bell, who died March 13, took the position of community services coordinator in 1980 since there wasn’t a parks department yet. Ground had just been broken on ball fields and tennis courts near Apache Junction High School. He began his job working with the school district to develop agreements for joint-use facilities. That led to many projects, including the aquatic center at what has become Superstition Shadows Park to the Apache Junction Multi-generational Center, the release states.

“Jeff was a visionary public servant who found creative methods to deliver world-class facilities and programs to our community,” current Parks Director Liz Langenbach, who worked with Mr. Bell for 20 years, said in the release.

“He worked hard to develop staff that focused on high-quality, personal customer experiences. Jeff was a beloved mentor and father-figure to many of us in the department, and will be missed dearly.”

Mr. Bell grew up in Casa Grande and volunteered with that city’s parks department before he was a teenager. He worked there before and after he went to Arizona State University, where he received a degree in recreation management.

In Apache Junction, he started with creating Veterans Memorial Park on the city hall complex and by 2016 had a system of parks, facilities and awards. Mr. Bell oversaw the development of Prospector Park to the multi-generational center, according to the release.

Recreation Management magazine selected the recreation center for its Innovative Architecture and Design Award in 2006 and Athletic Business subsequently featured the project in its publication.

A long list of facilities came to be under Mr. Bell’s watch, including Little League Park; Superstition Shadows Park and Aquatics Center, which includes the skate park; Silly Mountain Park; and the Focal Point. He worked with the school district and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to acquire the trails and open space, some of which became developed parks.

Mr. Bell garnered many acknowledgements over the years, from the Arizona Parks and Recreation Association and others. In 2004, the state association named Superstition Shadows Park the “Outstanding Facility for a community with a population under 60,000,” and the Arizona Department of Commerce and the Governor’s Office gave Parks an award for “Excellence in Rural Development” for Superstition Shadows Park, according to the release.

The Apache Junction Independent is mailed each month to 35,000 homes.

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